Sunny Afternoon, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

JUKEBOX musicals tend to either use the songs of one artist or writer to tell a brand new story, as happens in Mamma Mia or Singing in the Rain, or to tell the story of the artist themselves, as with Twentieth Century Boy and Sunny Afternoon, which started a national tour as soon as its two-year run at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre ended, having won four Olivier Awards.

I am a big fan of actor-musician shows, and was delighted to hear that all the members of The Kinks in this show are played by actors who also play all the music. This brings an incredible energy to the whole thing, and keeps the music tight and together. The whole cast of this show not only play the original instruments of the members of the band, but also switch to trombone, keyboard and percussion, as well as some beautiful singing, the highlight being a five-part unaccompanied version of Days. They are supported themselves by Musical Director Barney Ashworth on keys and Marc Le Guerrannic on guitar, both adding subtle underscoring during dialogue as well as an additional level to the big set piece songs.

As the leader of the band Ray Davies, Ryan O’Donnell is in command of the stage, and shows Ray’s struggle to get his feelings into his music while trying to keep the band together. Mark Newnham, as the more rebellious brother Dave Davies, puts great energy into the part, and to his guitar playing, portraying the more typical rock star, with plenty of sex and drugs to go with the rock and roll. Garmon Rhys as somewhat reluctant bass player Pete Quaife and Andrew Gallo as drummer Mick Avory, with a sensational drum solo at the beginning of the second half, complete the band, in every sense of the word. The band in this show are what holds everything together, and they capture our attention from the opening scenes in Muswell Hill to their sell-out Madison Square Gardens gig, encouraging the whole audience to our feet for the medley of hits. One final band member, Ray’s wife and backing singer Rasa, played by Lisa Wright, adds more harmony and provides one of the most sensitive performances of the night, along with O’Donnell, as they sing solo numbers Sitting in My Hotel and I Go To Sleep to each other on a long distance call. The calmness, control and poignancy of these two songs compared with the big rock numbers really showed their versatility.

The four band members are consummate actor-musicians, making the hard work of remembering words, lyrics, moves and music appear effortless, but they are not alone. The rest of the large company are all good singers, most of them also musicians, and the choreography, by Adam Cooper is inventive and full of spirit. Name-dropping such fellow rock stars as John Lennon and Mick Jagger help keep us smiling, and there are some lovely cameos from the company.  The script of the show, the book, is written by Joe Penhall, with some input from Ray Davies, and it is tight and efficient: the way the dialogue builds to fit the opening line or title of a song is extremely clever.  There are many well-known songs in this show, as well as some less familiar one, but those used carry the narrative along and are there for a reason.

This band could certainly play entire concerts as The Kinks, but it is that extra level they each bring as experienced actors, and the wonderful supporting cast, that takes this show to such a high level. By the end of the show the capacity audience were all applauding as though we had lived a part of their lives with them, and were there for that huge concert in New York. This is one of the best shows of this style that I have seen, and it is not only a show for fans of The Kinks, but also a show for fans of musical theatre, particularly the actor-musician genre, so if you are either of these try not to miss it at Bristol this week, but if you do it’s back at Plymouth in May.


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